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Apple?s mixed labor record

21 Feb, 2015

Over the past two years, there have been periodic reports of appalling labor conditions in the factories – such as Taiwanese-owned Foxconn – which make Apple components and finished products. And, periodic announcements from Apple about strenuous efforts to ameliorate the problems.

Recently, Apple released its latest Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, and it reveals a major – and still active – problem with coerced labor. This usually involves people recruited by employment agencies, which take large fees that the workers must pay off out of their often-paltry wages, a practice called “bonded labor.” Apple has declared progress on the issue, but doubts remain.

For one thing, these reports are based on Apple audits, a practice which has been in force since 2007. An analysis of these audits was conducted the Worker Rights Consortium together with the Economic Policy Institute, and co-author Scott Nova “noted that the policy only applies to those who travel across borders to work at Apple supplier factories  –  not to the Chinese workers at Chinese suppliers, many of whom also use recruiting agencies.”

In any case, as Hayley Tsukayama of The Washington Post said, “the thing Apple banned would be beyond intolerable to any American worker.” The bonding process usually includes, for instance, the seizing of workers’ passports. “It's pretty close,” wrote Tsukayama, “to what some might call indentured servitude. And that's what Apple – the tech company that has taken a lot of heat and also offers the most information about its factory conditions – has only just stopped.”

And, while banning bonded labor is a good thing, many have noted that Apple’s pace of improvement and enforcement has been glacially slow. Dan Viederman works with labor rights group Verite, which has at times teamed with Apple. He said, “We've been working on this for fifteen years. It’s a shame that it's taken that long to even get this initial set of companies to act on this issue.”

Read the full report here.

Supplier Responsibility 2015 Progress Report (Apple Corporate report, Feb.2015)

Conditions for people who make your gadgets are improving — barely (Washington Post, Feb. 19, 2015)

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